Entrepreneurs and Spouses: How to ensure you are a team . . . always

I was talking with a couple the other day about division of labor with regard to handing their personal “business”. They are recently married and prior to their nuptials, Sam* (names have been changed) owned a couple of rental properties. They have been working on trying to turn over the properties to his wife Sally*, but it has not gone particularly well.

Initially, they decided to hire a property manager with the hope and expectation that Sally would learn from her and eventually be able to manage them herself. Unfortunately, Sally and the property manager do not get along well at all. Sally spent some time looking for someone to take her place, but was only able to identify companies that charged twice the price. Eventually, Sam got frustrated, so he took back over the task of working with the property manager and Sally hasn’t been helping out with that part of their lives. Over time, this has left both Sam and Sally resentful of each other with regard to this topic. So we got to the bottom of it and came up with a plan.

First, it was important for Sam to acknowledge that Sally really does want to contribute and take more things off of his plate. To put it bluntly, sometimes women just don’t work well with other women. There, I said it!! I felt it was essential for him to recognize that it was a possibility the property manager just responded better to working with a man; and regardless of where things ended up with our “plan” it might still not be a good fit between Sally and the property manager.

Second, we decided that for the next two months, both Sally and Sam would work together with her. That way Sally could watch the way Sam interacted with her and hopefully continue that pattern after Sam was weaned off. Initially, she wouldn’t talk very much, just listen and observe. After the first month, she could start to re-establish her own relationship with the property manager, but Sam would still be involved.

Third, after 2 months, Sam would turn over the project to Sally and she would try to work with and learn from the property manager for an additional 6 months. If it worked out, great. If not, then together they would work to find a replacement.

Two major outcomes came out of this discussion. 

1. They will set aside 2-3 hours of time each week to work in tandem with each other. Sam will work on whatever he needs to work on for his business, but because they will be in the same vicinity of each other, whenever Sally “needs” Sam for something, he will drop what he is doing and be fully available to Sally. This way, she isn’t saying randomly throughout the week, “I need you to call xxx”. She can set up the call and he will be there to help. This takes the responsibility off his crazy full entrepreneurial plate, but enables her to accomplish tasks she can’t do without him.

2.  I pointed out to Sam, that by “taking back over” the property management account and making Sally feel inadequate because she didn’t work well with the property manager, he, for lack of a better phrase, hurt her feelings. He didn’t have her back. He didn’t show her, “we’re on the same team.” During the discussion, both Sam and Sally had an ‘aha’ moment. I don’t even think Sally realized that her feelings were hurt, but they definitely were. What she heard was, “the property manager is more important than you”. Of course that’s not what Sam was intending to convey, but that’s what was heard. In marriage, and more importantly and entrepreneurial marriage the underlying foundation has to always be, “Team Sam and Sally” or “Us vs Them” or whatever works for you and your relationship.

The plan we outlined above, recognizes that both Sam and Sally are vital to the success of their “personal business” and has them working together as a team!



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